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Unlocking Innovation: Carla Johnson on Empowering Every Employee

By Alexander Højfeldt Lund on May 15, 2024

Carla Johnson, a renowned innovation architect, believes that every employee has the potential to contribute to a company's innovation process. Johnson has worked with leading brands like Amazon and Intel, helping them harness the power of innovative thinking and creativity.

In this interview, Johnson, who’ll speak at the Native Advertising Days 2024, discusses common misconceptions about innovation. 

"People often think innovation is confined to R&D or marketing, but 90% of it happens outside these traditional groups," she said. 

She emphasises that innovation isn't just about creating new products but involves a mindset of creative problem-solving in daily tasks.

Johnson thinks that a major barrier is the belief that innovation is someone else's job. 

"They say, 'There's an innovation group for that,' or they defer to the creative team in marketing," she explains. 

This mindset prevents employees from taking ownership and responsibility for innovative thinking.

Substitute “innovation” with “innovative thinking”

To overcome this, Johnson advocates for substituting the word "innovation" with "innovative thinking" or "mindset." 

"It's about how we think about the work we do. It helps employees understand that their role involves innovation too."

One important thing to recognise is according to Johnson the importance of observational skills in fostering innovation. 

"Highly innovative people are highly observant," she notes. 

Wheel of Innovation

Johnson's framework, the "Wheel of Innovation," begins with exactly that–observing details that others might miss, such as customer feedback or trends in other industries.

This framework has five steps: Observe, Distill, Relate, Generate, and Pitch.

  1. Observe: Highly innovative people are highly observant. They notice details others miss, whether in customer service calls or trends in other industries.
  2. Distill: This step is about identifying patterns from observations, recognizing trends, and connecting the dots.
  3. Relate: Instead of copying and pasting what works elsewhere, relate successful patterns to your own industry to generate ideas.
  4. Generate: With all the previous steps, brainstorming becomes more effective and innovative.
  5. Pitch: This involves storytelling, showing how an idea evolved from observed patterns to a solution, making it less risky and more adaptable.

Structured Approach to Idea Generation

Johnson emphasises the value of a structured approach to idea generation and innovation.

"When you start with a solid foundation, your brainstorming sessions become more productive and creative," she says.

For marketers, Johnson's insights are particularly valuable. She stresses the need for marketing teams to move beyond traditional campaign strategies and embrace innovative content creation. 

"Look at what Lego did. They didn't just sell toys; they created movies, magazines, and an entire community around their brand," she points out.

Safe to Share Ideas

To foster a culture of innovation, Johnson recommends creating an environment where employees feel safe to share ideas. She suggests exercises like brainstorming the worst possible ideas to break the ice and encourage creative thinking. 

"It opens up minds to creativity and can lead to unexpectedly brilliant ideas," she says.

In other words, Carla Johnson's approach to innovation is about empowering every employee to think creatively and contribute to the company's success. By fostering a culture of observation, pattern recognition, and safe idea sharing, businesses can unlock their full innovative potential.

Do you want to learn more from Carla Johnson and 40 more industry-leading speakers on native advertising? Native Advertising Days 2024 takes place June 12 -13 2024, DGI-Byen, Copenhagen Denmark

Register here